Random Survival Tips
St Petersburg and other places. Gleaned from various sources.
- Under the Table. Don’t enter into a drinking competition with the locals. You will lose. Messily. These folks are pros.
- Common Sense. Hard to define in a court of law (apparently) but arguably your greatest asset – assuming that you have some. Advertising that you are a dumb tourist with valuable belongings and plenty of disposable income at hand is a bad idea, just as it would be anywhere, when you think about it. Cash and camera on show: bad. Valuables in easy-to-reach outside/back pockets: bad. Alone, drunk and staggering out of a bar into an unlicensed Gypsy cab with a couple of dodgy looking guys inside in the middle of the night: beyond stupid. Act like a victim and someone may just decide to treat you like one.
- Learn Some Russian. One of those things that are “obvious”, but still worth a mention…just in case. Relying on the very shaky premise that “They speak English these days anyway” is missing the point. I’ve read accounts where knowing even a few appropriate words or phrases has tipped the balance in a potential victim’s favour, from “clueless-tourist-who-can-be-ripped-off” to “traveller-with-some-smarts-who-isn’t-a-pushover”. Which just might be enough to deter the opportunist. Also, from my talks with people from various countries: nothing seems to build bridges better, or present you in a more positive light, than your attempts (however faltering) to speak some of their language, especially if you respect some of their courtesies or formalities at the same time. This just keeps coming up over and over again.
- The Swarm. Okay, if a “racist” statement turns out to be true, then is it racism, or just truth? Whilst you are pondering that: beware of swarm attacks by gangs of loitering Gypsies, usually children or teenagers, perhaps with an older female minder. They can be found in parks, on the Metro, in tourist hot spots such as the Nevsky Prospekt etc. Once you have identified yourself as a tourist (i.e. easy meat) they may engage you in a swarm attack of aggressive begging, grabbing, probing and pick-pocketing. The swarm is designed to bewilder, intimidate and confuse, making the job easier. So, keep your composure and be aware of your cash and valuables – which you’ve sensibly hidden out of reach, right? An assertive “Nyet!” (“No!”) may also be appropriate. And no – for the outraged politically correct amongst you – it’s not all Gypsies or Romanies, and not all of the time: just the ones who want to steal your wallet, now.
- Block and Tackle. Beware, this is a classic. A friend reported this very manoeuvre being carried out against a fellow traveller on a Euro bus trip. Apparent only in hindsight… Okay, there’s a narrow through-way: an entrance to the Metro, a shop, a vehicle, anything. As you attempt to pass through, the person in front of you stops dead, forcing you to do the same. He (or she) is part of the gang that are about to rob you. His pals, directly behind you, also stop, “accidentally” pressed up against you. You are sandwiched in, allowing them the time and opportunity to pick your pockets, reach into your bag, etc. It takes literally seconds. Anecdotally, I’ve also heard of knives being used to slice open back pockets (although not a report from St Petersburg). Anything’s possible!
To be continued…
Welcome back. The Random Survival Tips section is growing profusely. I may rein it in a bit, or come back to it later on. Just to mix things up a little. If you have any tips, comments or observations that you’d like to share, then please do. We may all learn something. I’m certainly no expert, nor particularly well-travelled. The aim is to present information and perspectives from those that are – the varied human experience of all the things that make the Trans-Siberian route and its offshoots fascinating. Plus facts, figures and tips too.
So, we are part-way through an arbitrary, abridged guide to some of St Petersburg’s main attractions, whilst chalking up more RSTs (Random Survival Tips) as we go. In case of any burgeoning RST-induced paranoia, it may be a good time to redress the balance. It’s easy to focus on all of the potential negatives of a trip to…well, anywhere. London has its share of potential (and real) nasties too, but that doesn’t stop millions cruising around yearly, heading for gigs, galleries, exhibitions etc. without incident (okay, I’ve had to deal with the occasional aggressive beggar). And of course, no-one publishes reports detailing the number of times that absolutely nothing untoward happens, do they?
With that in mind, Nickolay from St Petersburg was telling me: “As a general recommendation: don’t be frightened. St Petersburg is a safe place. I would not recommend that a teenager spends a night in the street alone and I would not recommend having too close contact with a group of Gypsy people (if you find them in St Petersburg, which is not an easy thing to do in the first place), but these are common recommendations in any country.” Thanks Nickolay.
Next Time: Trips and Tales (Part 15)
More arbitrary highlights from the cultural pantheon that is glorious St Petersburg. Then we’re heading East.
[Photo by achimbodewig]